After high school, my family stopped going to the cottages in Port Austin.
I returned in Summer 2002, with my college boyfriend, but our relationship was in its death throws. We spent most of our time at the Bella Vista Inn in Caseville, and he preferred watching TV over exploring the lakeshore. It still clocks in as my worse vacation ever. We broke up a few weeks later.
I went back with my mom in Summer 2011 to visit Ray for the weekend. His wife had passed after a long battle with cancer several weeks earlier. While it was sad, it was also great to see Ray smile and reminisce about the old times. We waded out 1,000 feet into the lake, only up to our shoulders, and talked. As someone who is used to the ocean, it felt surreal to be so far out in the water, yet so good to be back home among familiar faces.
After the crazy spring of 2017, my husband and I, weary from navigating the rough waters, needed an escape. I suggested Port Austin because it was calming without much hustle and bustle. After spending over 10 years together, it was time to introduce him to a part of the world that was integral to my childhood.
We flew into Detroit and rented a car. I didn’t need a map after all these years, the route was still etched in my heart. The little towns leading to Port Austin were exactly as they were in my memory.
The IGA Foodliner of Bad Axe is long gone, but Walmart was in its place. We stopped here for supplies. Just like when I was a child, my heart beat fast as we saw the big billboard sign for Port Austin. A quick glance around downtown and I sighed with relief: time had left it alone. We drove to Ray’s lakeside cottage in Caseville – the first stop on our trip. My husband and I stayed in the same cottage I had always stayed in, while Ray stayed in the other one on the property.
The cottage was not untouched by the years: the 1940’s refrigerator was replaced with something from the 1990’s; the kitchen table was a rectangle bench, no longer the old round table; some furniture was moved to a different place; the walls were insulated. The memories were so thick there, I kept thinking my grandmother, despite dying 14 years previous, would appear around the corner. I found myself expecting that she’d be there getting dinner ready or making tea and we’d pick up conversation as if she never left. I was disappointed every time we walked back in to the cottage to see she wasn’t there. Every. Single. Time.
The lakeshore has changed with the rising water: there is significantly less beach than 20 years ago. Outside of that, everything else had remained as it was in my memory and that was comforting.
Just like when I was a kid, we always took a day to explore Frankenmuth, a cute small town with a southern German flair a little over an hour away. We took the backroads, naturally, and I was astounded by all the wind turbines. They were never there before. Frankenmuth, on the other hand, was the same, yet wasn’t nearly as exciting to me at 35 as it was at 12. Nonetheless, we had a wonderful time, ate loads of good German food, walked to Bronner’s from downtown, and left with our hearts full and happy.
We left Ray’s cottage after much hugging and clean up and moved onto our next location: my aunt’s cottage in Broken Rocks. I had been coming here since the late 1980’s and wasn’t ready for all the upgrades they did. The place was even more wonderful than I remember.
My aunt was at her main home in Detroit, so we had the place to ourselves. We played a lot of cards and spent out evenings in Port Austin: ice cream, walking the breakwater, getting cheese and crackers for our card night at the grocery store, eating at the new place, Pak’s Backyard (a must-do if you’re in the area!), and we even caught a show at the Port Austin Community Playhouse. It was everything I loved and remembered about being a part of the local theater community.
The easy going small town lakeshore life was everything we needed. We left to catch our plane in Detroit during a rainstorm. I was sad to be leaving too.
We don’t have any plans to go back at this time – we often toy with the idea of doing an artistic retreat: my husband and his paints, me and my words. Port Austin is at the top of our list for places to make this happen. Summer 2019?